Tony Hughes, sales director at NM Williams, discusses the shirts and blouses market, including tax tabs, currency instability and clever details

What are the key style trends in shirts and blouses in the imprint market at the moment?
Subtle detail is key. Touches that increase the sense of style, without making a garment too ‘fashionable’ or short lived. This can be through details on the cuff, the collar, the sleeves or the fabric itself. Wearers want to feel that they are wearing something special; they are used to seeing clever, understated detailing in the high street and they expect the same from their work clothing.

And the key trends in colour?
White and light blue will always dominate, but we are seeing demand for a wider range of shades of blue – mid blues, bright cobalt blue, French navy and so on – and also rich aubergine and plum tones are popular because they aren’t too feminine to exclude male wearers and will work with navy, charcoal and black bottom halves.

Which fabrics are currently the most popular?
Cotton-rich wins when it comes to shirts: it gives the classic combination of wearer-comfort from the cotton, yet the practical ease of care and performance from the polyester content. Women tend to be more accepting of fabrics containing other fibres, so trends are different when it comes to blouses – modern polyesters are a world away from the 70s nightmare of the past! Newer yarns are soft, drapey and open up a whole host of styling potential – watch this space for some of our own in the future…

How do you think the corporatewear market has changed over the past five years?
Corporatewear still faces some of the same challenges that it did five years ago: how to address the classic dichotomy of the need for high quality garments at ever lower prices, whilst tying to avoid committing to high minimum order quantities or long lead times, but the current currency instability is our biggest challenge by far.

What are the main types of decoration seen on shirts and blouses?
Embroidery remains the most popular form of decoration, closely followed by tax tabbing.

Are there any potential decoration issues with shirts or blouses?
Aside from the obvious challenges of seeking to avoid decorating over breast pockets and garment panelling, I would recommend simplifying the logo wherever possible: heavy, dense logos with a high concentration of stitches can be just too weighty for lighter fabrics.

Do you have any examples of particularly unusual decorations that you’ve seen on shirts or blouses lately?
We’ve seen some interesting ways of using tax tabs recently, either by positioning them on the cuffs or using them as a flat badge on the nape of the neck. It’s subtle, yet still distinctive.

Will NM Williams be expanding its shirts and blouses ranges in 2017?
We have just launched a range refresh leaflet by way of a taster for our full brochure launch planned for early 2017. There will be plenty of new products, new colours, new fabrics and a new website to help bring it all to life. The structure and presentation of the brochure is getting a complete overhaul too – there’s lots to look forward to!

What’s the best piece of marketing and sales advice you can give to Images readers to help them sell more shirts and blouses from NM Williams?
However well represented products are through brochure photography, you can’t beat seeing it in the flesh. A fabric needs to be felt, and the quality of manufacture and fit needs to be seen, so wear one yourself and, better still, get another one out of the packet and persuade your customer to try one on!


Stripe Blouse (LH410)

Gingham Blouse (LH420)

Houndstooth Shirt (H401)

Tony Hughes